1. Names: Sabrina Scandar (at left in photo) and Silvia Scandar Mahan, sisters and cofounders of sewlove.co [a “community for artists and lovers of artistic, fashion-forward, custom-designed clothing”].
2. Current job, past jobs:
Sabrina: Currently, Co-founder/COO of Sew Love. Previously, Senior Product Manager at Open English; Research and marketing for a clean energy company, and Dept of Justice contractor.
Silvia: Currently, Co-founder/CEO of Sew Love. Previously, Associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom, LLP.
3. Schools attended; major:
Sabrina: B.A. in Government, Georgetown University
Silvia: A.B. in Economics, Harvard University; JD from Georgetown University School of Law
4. Did you need to have an internship to help get your jobs?
Sabrina: I’m not really sure if I needed specific internships to get any of my jobs, but they certainly didn’t hurt. In college, I had a variety of internships including positions on Capitol Hill, at a D.C. think tank, and at a nonprofit. I wouldn’t say that they definitely prepared me for future jobs, but they did give me something to put on my résumé and discuss with potential employers. If I could go back, I probably would be pickier with choosing internships because I think it’s really important to use these positions to help steer you in the right direction. Most companies/organizations will accept free work, so it’s a good idea to offer your service, even when a company or organization isn’t actively looking for an intern.
Silvia: I have only had two internships in my life and those were for jobs completely unrelated to what I’m doing now. The internships (one on a political campaign, and one at an NGO overseas) were great because they gave me brief, but meaningful exposure to fields that interested me. If you’re like me and want to try everything before making a decision, internships are invaluable. I ultimately was able to use the skills and network I gained from those internships to move forward in other industries (first law, and now, entrepreneurship).
5. Did you contact prospective employers cold? What were your best and worst interviews?
Sabrina: Of the three jobs I held before we started Sew Love, two recruited me based on referrals from friends or colleagues. What I realized from this was that reputation is ultimately the strongest tool I have and also the most delicate. One of those referrals was from someone I knew in high school, so clearly reputation matters very early on in life. And now that I’m starting my own business, this couldn’t be more true. Attracting investors, partners, and media is vastly easier when you do it through your network. Some people say that networking events are a waste of time, but I strongly disagree. It’s important to connect with people in your industry because it helps to build your personal brand. People are more likely to want to do business with people they already know and feel good about, so establishing a good reputation is vital to business success.
Silvia: I completely agree with Sabrina. I’ve never gotten a job through cold contacting a potential employer. I’m somewhat of an introvert, but I’ve found great returns when I finally put myself out there and network, network, network! I’ve also learned that people are surprisingly willing—and even enthusiastic—to serve as mentors, so, if there’s someone you admire, it’s definitely worth asking.
Networking requires confidence, and so do interviews. My best interviews were those in which I felt and projected confidence. But the best way to get that confidence without coming across as phony is by preparing for the interview as thoroughly as possible. I make sure I’m extremely familiar with the company or organization, including any recent press. And, I make sure I know my résumé inside-out, too.
6. What is the biggest obstacle you deal with now? School debt; life-work balance; job satisfaction; lack of promotion opportunities; time management?
Sabrina & Silvia: On the business side, the biggest challenge is working—and living—within a budget. Sew Love is a bootstrapped company, meaning we haven’t taken on investment yet. We’ve put some of our own money into the business and we ran a Kickstarter campaign last fall to raise some money. We try to adhere to the lean startup model, an approach that allows us to build a better product that meets our customers’ needs without a significant amount of initial funding. It does however really challenge us to trim down our product to the most basic and essential features.
It also means we don’t have salaries yet. That obviously translates to a modified personal life. We’ve both really had to adjust our lifestyles and spending habits to accommodate our lack of income. It’s a huge sacrifice, but absolutely worth the experience of starting a business.
7. Who would be your ideal mentor? How have you sought a mentor and how has that person played a role in your career?
Sabrina & Silvia: Rather than take on a single mentor, we’ve really tried to draw on the experience and expertise of many different people around us. Many times, we have reached out to individuals to request a chat over coffee to seek their advice on a particular problem or area of our business. Limiting yourself to only one mentor gives you only one set of experiences from which to learn. We recommend asking many different people to advise you, and looking for people with very particular expertise. If you need help with PR, talk to someone who has run a successful PR campaign. If you want advice on raising money for a startup, talk to an investor or an entrepreneur who has closed a seed round. In our experience, most people are willing to let you pick their brain, and if you do, you’ll come away with a more well-rounded understanding of what it takes to succeed.
8. How and where do you network with others in your field?
Sabrina & Silvia: The tech world is buzzing with networking opportunities! When we started working on Sew Love, we joined a local coworking space/tech community. We also try to attend as many meetup groups or info sessions as we can to get to know and connect with people in this field. Turns out techies are really into getting together, sharing resources, and making industry friends. And since the Miami tech community is small (but growing!), we’ve been able to connect with a lot of the same people over and over again to develop strong professional relationships.
9. What challenges do you still see facing women as they rise in business? What helps you navigate those challenges?
Sabrina & Silvia: We find that what holds us back most are our own inhibitions or perceptions of who we should be. The most successful entrepreneurs are unafraid to take risks, to speak up, and to push for what they want. We remind ourselves of this often. And when faced with difficult decisions or risky actions, we repeat to each other, “Be fearless.” It has become our mantra, and our best guideline for moving forward.
10. What helpful advice can you give to someone who wants to follow in your field? Are there specific classes that should be taken in high school or college? What internships should be applied for?
Sabrina & Silvia: We were asked this question in an interview after Sew Love won a pitch competition, and this was our response: “Just do it, go for it. Take risks and ask for help and criticism. There is never going to be the perfect time. The nice thing about being young is that it’s OK to pick up and go and change your plans.”
This still holds true as the best advice we could give to someone considering entrepreneurship or really any career at an early stage in life. It goes back to the concept of being fearless, and it’s a great guideline for life, both professionally and personally.